Fresh from a first round victory over the Cheetahs, the Lions will be banking on home-town advantage to pull off a similar upset when they host the Stormers.
Johan Ackermann’s men surprised by downing the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last Saturday in their return to Super Rugby and the coach believes the stars could just be lining up again for the Lions.
“The tempo of our game, the heat of Joburg and the altitude may just benefit us,” said Ackermann yesterday. “Also, the Stormers are a little unsettled at the moment; they’ve had to make some changes and that’s always difficult to deal with.”
Indeed, the men from Cape Town will be without the likes of Eben Etzebeth and Juan de Jongh, with rookies Kobus van Wyk, Michael van der Spuy and Manuel Carizza among five debutants running out this weekend. It’s a Stormers team that look a little brittle compared to years gone by, but Ackermann adds the visitors will still be a tough nut to crack.
“Look, they’re a quality side and they’ll have a lot of self-belief. They’ve had a tough pre-season and will be raring to go. They may have picked a few new guys, but their junior structures have always been good, they play the same style from top to bottom.
“But, it certainly helps that we’ve got a game under our belt. There’s always pressure going into the first one and at least we’ve got that out of the way. We’ve been tested in the scrums and line-outs and we now know what the referees want and expect.”
Despite leaving Bloemfontein last weekend with four points in the bag, Ackermann is hoping to see a big improvement in aspects of the Lions’ game. “We really weren’t good in contact, we didn’t look after our ball well enough and on more than one occasion it was ripped from our hands. And at this level you can’t afford to give up the ball so easily,” said the Lions boss.
And, while Ackermann didn’t spend too much time discussing the matter yesterday, you can be sure he’ll want his side to show a little more flair on attack.
The Lions didn’t look like scoring a try against the Cheetahs, with all their points coming via the boot of Marnitz Boshoff, and this weekend they’re up against a famously good defensive system in the Stormers.
In the only change to the side that played a week ago, Alwyn Hollenbach comes into the midfield in place of the injured Lionel Mapoe, while lock MB Lusaseni takes the place of Willie Britz on the bench.
Lions: Chrysander Botha, Deon van Rensburg, Stefan Watermeyer, Alwyn Hollenbach, Ruan Combrinck, Marnitz Boshoff, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (capt), Derick Minnie, Jaco Kriel, Franco van der Merwe, Franco Mostert, Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee, Schalk van der Merwe. Replacements: Willie Wepener, Jacques van Rooyen, Ruan Dreyer, MB Lusaseni, Warwick Tecklenburg, Ross Cronjé, JW Jonker, Coenie van Wyk
Crusaders v Chiefs, Christchurch 8.35am; Cheetahs v Bulls, Bloemfontein 7.10pm
Highlanders v Blues, Dunedin 8.35am; Brumbies v Reds, Canberra 10.40am; Sharks v Hurricanes, Durban 5.05pm; Lions v Stormers, Johannesburg 7.10pm
Waratahs v Force, Sydney 7.05am - The Star